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Wildcats find mo' Joe

Date story published: Thursday, March 6, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Kentucky guard Joe Crawford was so hot against South Carolina Wednesday night he took a shot from near midcourt.

"I was really surprised he missed that 42-foot shot," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said before adding, "I know they were trying to contest it. That says something about his performance when you're trying to contest a shot from that deep."

It said Crawford was on his way to a career-high 35 points.

Fellow senior Ramel Bradley was so clutch that when South Carolina erased much of Kentucky's 16-point second-half lead, he launched a three-pointer that bounced high off the rim and then settled nicely in the basket.

"Shooter's bounce," he said with his trademark smile, "and to make sure, a little bit of the basketball gods."

Crawford and Bradley combined for 55 points as Kentucky beat South Carolina 71-63. The duo scored all but four of UK's final 52 points as the Cats improved to 17-11 overall and -- are you paying attention NCAA Tournament Selection Committee -- 11-4 in the Southeastern Conference.

"Too much Joe Crawford and too much Ramel Bradley," South Carolina Coach Dave Odom said. "Those two guys, on the offensive end and even the defensive end, controlled the game.

"When those two guys want to do it ... when they really put their minds to it, they are as good as any twosome in the league."

Crawford, who surpassed his previous high in an SEC game of 29 points at Georgia last season, hit from three-point range and also scored off his patented drives to the basket. He scored 15 in the first half, then added 20 in the second.

"Oh, he was feeling it," Bradley said of Crawford. "He was feeling it. For a second, I told him I was so mad. It was so easy. 'It was like they weren't even guarding you out there.' "

Kentucky complemented the Crawford/Bradley scoring with good defense. South Carolina made three of its first 18 shots and struggled to score for much of the first 32 minutes.

Point guard Devan Downey was the focus of UK's defense. Ramon Harris, Derrick Jasper and Michael Porter took turns hounding Downey. He got off four first-half shots, which equalled the number of turnovers he committed in the opening 20 minutes. His nine points marked only the third time all season he's failed to crack double digits.

"He said, 'How are you all guarding me?' " Crawford quoted Downey as saying. "He was kind of confused. That was a positive thing."

Crawford, whose previous career high was 32 against Texas Southern earlier this season, noted how Gillispie implored him to increase his scoring with freshman standout Patrick Patterson sidelined for the season.

"He kind of put a little pressure on me to make some shots," Crawford said, "and that's what I did. ... I'm not used to taking that many shots (and) being that aggressive. But it's a role I like to fill."

With Crawford picking up where he left off in the first half, Kentucky extended its 34-25 halftime lead early in the second half.

Crawford opened the half with a too-easy driving layup. That pushed him past Hall of Famer Frank Ramsey on UK's career scoring list.

Later, South Carolina briefly switched to a zone. Crawford swished a deep three-pointer from the right side.

Although UK led by as many as 16 with less than nine minutes left, South Carolina rallied. With the lead down to 58-52, Crawford made two free throws at the 4:45 mark. That pushed him past radio commentator and former UK All-American Mike Pratt on the scoring list.

Yet South Carolina kept coming, making five of seven shots, including three straight jumpers that narrowed UK's lead to 62-57 with 3:52 left.

After Crawford missed a spinning shot in the lane, Jasper kept the lead at four by coming over on help defense and blocking Downey's driving shot.

Then Bradley hit the high-bouncing three-pointer to establish a 65-57 lead with 2:45 left.

"That kind of broke our back," Downey said. South Carolina fell to 13-16 overall and 5-10 in the SEC.

Gillispie noted the importance of Crawford and Bradley filling the void created by Patterson's injury.

"I told Joe and Ramel you're going to have to do a lot of extra stuff," the UK coach said.

But 55 of the team's 71 points took things to an extreme.

"Not the way you'd like to have it, but you'd love to have two guys score 55," Gillispie said. "... They're very deserving because it has not come easy for them."